Will the first cannabis-derived drug help dogs?

FDA approved first CBD drug for humans
By Claudia Kawczynska, July 2018, Updated June 2021

As we are digging into research about cannabis for a feature article about Cannabis and Dogs: a Primer for our fall issue, we came across an interesting news item. On June 25, the FDA, for the first time, approved a drug comprised of the active ingredient cannabidiol (CBD) found in marijuana. CBD does not, like tetrahydrocannaidiol, or THC, one of the many active compounds in cannabis, produce a high.

The new prescription drug, Epidiolex from GW Pharmaceuticals PLC, is for treating two forms of rare, severe epilepsy in humans. Interesting to us is that while this drug is labeled for use in human patients is may be used as an extra-label drug in veterinary patients. The Animal Drug Use Clarification Act, a federal law, authorizes extra-label use of human drugs in veterinary medicine. While the FDA can restrict extra-label use in animals of some drugs, it did not restrict Epidiolex, according to an article on VIN News Service .

There is one more step that needs to be taken to clear Epidiolex for sale in this country. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) needs to review and classify it. The DEA is the agency that still considers CBD a Schedule 1 drug, so it is illegal for any use (including research) in this country. That agency has 90 days to decide what they might do, but as the VIN article noted, “Wade Sparks, a DEA spokesperson. 'It’s approved as medicine, so it can’t be Schedule I,' he said.”

DEA’s decision is due in late September. One of the medicinal properties of CBD is as an anti-convulsant. Veterinary researchers, notably Dr. Stephanie McGrath a neurologist from Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, have already begun exploring the potential of CBD to treat dogs for epilepsy. And while Steve Schultz spokesperson for GW Pharmaceuticals PLC noted that he can’t comment on the possible application of CBD in veterinary patients since their product wasn’t studied for vet applications, it still might mark a step forward. Although it has been difficult for McGrath to get a science journal to publish her findings about CBD, epilepsy and dogs, the Canadian Veterinary Journal will be publishing it in October (not coincidentally, in October, Canada will become one of the first countries to legalize recreational cannabis use in the whole country). See this report on CBS affiliate in Denver. We’ll be following this developing story.